British archeologists discover potential Abraham birthplace in Iraq

Modern technology allowed the archeologists to uncover history in ways not previously possible

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British archaeologists from the University of Manchester are excavating a large building complex in southern Iraq, thought to be around 4,000 years old, near the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, biblical home of Abraham.

The arrangement of rooms around a large courtyard was located using modern technology and satellite imaging and is thought to be an administrative complex that served one of world’s earliest cities.


Doctor Jane Moon, who is one of the archaeologists directing the team of specialists, said initial satellite photos indicated the presence of a significant building on the site.

“I think the significant find is the site itself and the big building that is on it. We have satellite photographs - we are lucky to have those, when I worked here before in the 70’s and 80’s you couldn’t get satellite photos - so we have some idea of what we have got, which is very large, it has got to be a public building,” said Moon.

She added archaeologists were now studying how the building would have been used thousands of years ago.

“This is going to be particular interesting because, although such buildings have been excavated in the past, it was long time ago and not excavated using modern techniques. So that’s what it is interesting and so we are starting to uncover this bit by bit and we are just beginning to understand what it looks like and the next thing we want to do is to understand how it works.”

The University of Manchester team have marked the size of the complex at about 80 meters square, comparing it to the size of a soccer pitch and provisionally dating it to around 2,000 B.C.

Headed by Moon and Professor Stuart Campbell, excavation work started in April 2013 at the site of Tell Khaiber, 40 kilometers away from the Ur Ziggurat ruins.

The team will analyze plant and animal remains found at the site to aid a reconstruction of the environmental and economic conditions in the region around 4,000 years ago, according to the university.

Moon says more ancient relics will have been disturbed by the later occupation of the site and researchers aimed to establish a clearer understanding of the time frame each artifact fits into.

“We are actually working on dates to the early second millennium BC, probably between 1900 and 1750… but we do know the site was occupied before that, we have little bits of pottery that tell us that there was occupation at least a 1,000 years earlier and perhaps a couple of thousand before that even. But those parts will probably have been quite substantially disturbed by the later occupation. So it is probably the later occupation that is going to tell us most of what we want to know. It is a very significant period, it is a time of terrific political upheaval in southern Iraq,” she told Reuters TV.

This is the first archaeological team to carry out excavation work in southern Iraq since the 1980s. Unrest in the region has meant that many of the sites that are of particular importance to Iraq's cultural heritage have remained untouched.

Moon said she hoped their work attracted wider international attention.

“Most people think it is dangerous to be here and actually, as you can see, we are perfectly safe. We like to encourage more to come, there used to be a lot, but the Iraqi archaeologists, as good as they are, have been cut off the international community for ages, we’d really like to help them to reconnect,” she said.

The archaeologists say their research will shed new light on modern understanding of the first city-states.

Ur, once a commercial hub, was discovered in the 1920s and 1930s.

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